Advice to My Friend Jim: It Wants To Be Free

Yesterday in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, I read a column by editor Jim Foudy about the newly revamped Gazettenet, the paper’s website. Since the beginning of time Steve and I have told the folks over there that they are crazy to keep charging people to view the site, since they lose so many visitors when that big gate slams down right after a Gazette story pops up in a Google search.

I remember once being told they had something like 500 paying subscribers for the online-only version though all 21,000 or so paid print subscribers can access the site. But that leaves so many thousands, no, millions of others who can’t see the content.

I just finished reading Chris Anderson’s cover story in March’s issue of Wired, which is called “Free! Why $0.00 is the future of business,” and as usual this guy makes solid points starting with the anecdote of King Gillette, a frustrated inventor. He went on to make millions by giving away razors but charging for the blades. Again and again, Anderson makes the point that things like free webmail, free DVRs and free content from online media can make lots of money over time. Just look at Google, which has no products that cost consumers anything yet is the hottest stock on the market in 2008.

He cites Google’s GOOG-411 service, that gives free directory assistance, while AT&T makes $7 billion a year from the same service. But he points out that each time a caller phones in they give up valuable data ‘representing unique variations in accent, phrasing and business names that Google uses to enhance its service” The value of that data: $14 million. And the value of being a top player in mobile search? Many billions.

So just like the guys who run the site at the Gazette, I’m eager for my friends down there to embrace the light, and let all of that info out of the cage to be free, and make them some real money.